The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee held its first 2012 farm bill hearing, “The Role, Risks and Challenges for American Agriculture and the next Farm Bill.”

Members acknowledged the challenges of writing a new farm bill with tight budget constraints and the perception that high prices render the safety net less important.

However, members acknowledged that agriculture is cyclical and noted that current disasters resulting from floods, droughts and tornadoes remind everyone that risk management tools are critical. Most members focused on the need for crop insurance and some expressed support for a permanent disaster program citing times when crop insurance isn’t sufficient to cover widespread disasters.

Members also discussed the challenges that agriculture faces in supplying adequate food and fiber to a growing world population — noting that experts forecasted that demand will increase 70-100 percent by 2050. Members also cited the importance of funding research designed to improve productivity.

Chairwoman Stabenow (D-Mich.) said in her opening remarks that the starting focus for discussion would not be on programs, but on principles the farm bill should accomplish. Sen. Johanns (R-Neb.) noted stakeholders often think from one five-year farm bill to the next, but in drafting the 2012 farm bill, lawmakers must weigh agriculture's long-term role in meeting the needs of a “troubled and hungry world,” which he said is key to the nation's future.

The Senators and witnesses suggested a greater emphasis should be placed on research, conservation and risk management.